— Below is a guest post from Griffin Davis, past President of The Trail Foundation —
The $14.4 million project to finally complete the lakefront hike and bike trail is the best possible investment Austin can make right now when it comes to alternative transportation. A little explanation on the cost.
In order to be accessible for citizens of all ability levels, the Boardwalk must be compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. Essentially, that means the trail needs to be at a low grade, basically flat. So, it needs to follow the shoreline. In some cases, explained below, that means we must build over the water. Building any bridge over water is costly. (The Pfluger Bridge for instance which spans 200 feet north to south cost 9.8 million dollars.)
This last section of Town Lake Trail has never been completed because of the challenging topography and the large number of private landowners along that section of the lake who are under no obligation to give or sell the City of Austin an easement.
In the case of the former, some sections along the route are steep cliffs where less expensive overland trail can’t be built safely or without damaging the environment. In those places, an overwater pedestrian bridge is necessary. One bridge segment crosses the outflow of Blunn Creek and has wetlands that need to be protected, again necessitating that the trail be built over water on piers.
In the case of the latter, private land owners don’t have to allow the city an easement to build land based trail, so along those sections, we have to build trail over water. Wherever it was possible, the Complete the Trail project routes the trail on land where the grade is fairly flat, where there is a straight route away from vehicular traffic and where there is enough width to meet the new Trail standard of 14 feet. Some individuals suggested routes that stay on land but were rejected because their proposed route would have required the trail to bend for several 90 degree turns to go around their condo building rather than run along the lakefront and those routes were only 8 feet wide in spots.
The route the City Council approved runs through at least two negotiated overland easements with private landowners and some city owned parkland below the Norwood House. About 50% of the planned route is on land.
So why complete the Trail at all? There are six reasons:
1) The current route is unsafe. For 1.1 miles, bicyclists, walkers, mothers with strollers and runners must leave the lakefront trail and use a narrow sidewalk on Riverside Drive, cross dozens of driveways for active commercial buildings and high occupancy apartment/condo complexes. They also have to cross 4 high speed entrance and exit ramps to I35. The Riverside Boardwalk Investment Study documented dozens of accidents involving pedestrians, bicyclists, runners and cars. No one has been killed yet. But a similar situation existed 15 years ago at the Trail crossing at Lamar Boulevard over the Lake. In separate accidents in the 1990’s, a pedestrian and a bicyclist legally using the narrow sidewalk next to an active traffic lane were struck by cars and killed. Since the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge was built, no one has been killed or injured at that crossing.
2) There is no safe pedestrian east-west corridor on the south side of the Lake. The population in this area is growing rapidly and deserves the same kind of safe pedestrian route enjoyed on the west side. The Boardwalk can help connect east and west Austin and bridge that hard dividing line of I35.
3) Without a complete lakefront Trail, most citizens of Austin are denied access public access to an especially beautiful section of their lake.
4) The Trail is increasingly being used as a commuting route, especially for bicyclists. If we safely connect the east-west sections of the Trail on the south side, we can provide a transportation choice for more people. And every commuter who chooses to bike or walk means one less car congesting traffic on Austin’s roads.
5) Completing the Trail creates a safe and complete hub that connects with many spoke trails (Shoal Creek Trail, Waller Creek Trail, Barton Creek Greenbelt, Johnson Creek Trail, Country Club Trail). This creates a truly useful large scale, city-wide trail network that provides choices for people who want an alternative to driving their car.
6) This is the only major transportation project that leverages local, private sector funds. The Trail Foundation has pledged $3 million dollars in matching funds for this project. Even in its incomplete state, the Trail is a success. It is a recreational asset and a proven transportation choice for thousands of folks who use it every week to bike or walk to get to where they want to go. We should complete it now when we have matching funds and negotiated easements over private land in place. The City has already dedicated $1.7 million in design and engineering studies to plan this. It would be a waste to not invest in the Trail that serves this city in so many ways. 40 years ago, Lady Bird and the rest of her gang contemplated a trail all around this man-made lake to serve all the people of Austin. This is our best chance in a generation to realize that vision. Vote for Proposition 1.
The Trail Foundation